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Philosophical Topics

Volume 49, Issue 1, Spring 2021
Social Visibility

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Displaying: 1-11 of 11 documents


introduction
1. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Matthew Congdon, Alice Crary

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i. studies in social visiblity
2. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Robert Gooding-Williams

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This paper considers W.E.B. Du Bois’s short story, “Jesus Christ in Texas,” in the perspective of his analysis of the concept of beauty in Darkwater (1920); his exposition of the idea that “all art is propaganda” in “Criteria of Negro Art” (1926); and his moral psychology of white supremacy. On my account, Du Bois holds that beautiful art can help to undermine white supremacy by using representations of moral goodness to expand the white supremacist’s ethical horizons. To defend this thesis, he relies on an image of “the cross and the lynching tree” to revise imagery that he draws from Albrecht Dürer’s 1504 painting, “The Adoration of Kings.”
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3. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Shatema Threadcraft

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Black women struggle to make the violence they experience visible for at least four reasons: the violence occurs in private, not in public; it is associated with sex, sexuality and intimacy; the violence is not amplified within the public and counterpublic spheres; and, finally and importantly, activists have not been as successful in constructing resonate narratives regarding the violence. Contemporary violence against black men, for example, is often understood through the lens of lynching, a phenomenon that earlier activists were able to link to the biblical crucifixion. The activists’ work ensured that lynching holds an important place in the story of black peoplehood; it helped to make blacks as a political people and has been crucial to black understandings of who we are and why we are here. Social visibility requires that black women tell stories that not only build social movements; they must also tell stories that help to build people.
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4. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Anika Simpson, Paul C. Taylor

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As legal scholar Ariela Dubler notes, the institution of marriage casts a long shadow across contemporary social life. Much more than a way of conferring social sanction on sexual and romantic relationships, marriage unlocks a wide range of social goods, from inheritance rights to medical records access. In addition, though, and as generations of feminists, queer activists, and others have made clear, this institution is part of a wider network of power relationships that it helps to shore up and conceal. Critics most often point to the way the marital regime quietly reinforces patriarchal, bourgeois liberal, and heteronormative assumptions, hiding them in the shadow of putatively benign, private, and natural social structures. This article brings the overlooked connections between marriage and race out of the shadows and more fully into view. Using and refining a fourfold notion of racial invisibility developed in Taylor’s Black Is Beautiful, we consider two respects in which this ocularcentric metaphor for racialized epistemic short-circuiting is particularly appropriate for discussing the marital regime.
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5. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Sandra Laugier

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My paper focuses on the theme of visibility by teasing out some paradoxes of invisibility. In the ordinary social world, what is said to be invisible is generally what is here, right before our eyes, but to which we pay no attention. Care is invisible because it goes on without us seeing it. By suddenly making visible what is ordinarily invisible, the COVID pandemic has been a strange pedagogical moment, making visible the people who take care of “us”, and revealing our entire society’s ignorance of what allows it to live—whether in the context of everyday life or in the urgency of the risk of death. The grammar of care has thus imposed itself on everyone, because care is never so visible as in those situations where a form of life is shaken. Care work has been revealed as invisible work that keeps everyone going. “Invisible” does not refer to a difficulty in perceiving but rather a refusal to see. A refusal to see something that is not hidden, but which we do not see precisely because it is right before our eyes. Invisibility is thus denial, in both the social and the theoretical realms, especially when care work is envisioned in the terms of the further invisibilization of care work when it is done for the benefit of women as in the “care drain” from poor to rich countries. The asymmetry in the relations between North and South is part of the invisibility of what sustains societies. The invisible chains of care reveal the extent to which the question of service is the fundamental question of social invisibility.
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6. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Reginald Dwayne Betts, Lori Gruen

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Class, race, and tough-on-crime political platforms are three of the most discussed, and thus most visible, forces that contribute to mass incarceration. The analysis of each of these forces has been illuminating, yet these broad narratives tend to obscure the burden of prison for those locked up within them. The social narratives that have developed to help understand the prison industrial system often inadvertently obscure the complex experiences and losses endured by prisoners. The psychic and physical toll that accrues from decades of social exile, the affronts to dignity that “corrections” regularly impose, and the injuries to one’s sense of themselves and their relationships that prison foments haven’t received the attention they deserve. This essay explores the question of the permissibility of causing harm through imprisonment and social abandonment, arguing that any adequate answer must make the particular experiences and actual concerns of incarcerated people socially visible.
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7. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Susan J. Brison

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Some prominent contemporary ethicists, including Peter Singer and Jeff McMahan, do not consider human beings with profound intellectual disabilities to have the same moral status as “normal” people. They hold that individuals who lack sufficiently sophisticated cognitive abilities have the same moral value as nonhuman animals with similar cognitive capacities, such as pigs or dogs. Their goal—to elevate the moral standing of sentient nonhuman animals—is an admirable one which I share. I argue, however, that their strategy does not, in fact, achieve this goal and that there are better ways to advance it than to attach lesser value to the lives of profoundly intellectually disabled persons.
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ii. questions of method surrounding social visiblity
8. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Matthew Congdon

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Acts of interpersonal moral address depend upon a shared space of social visibility in which human beings can both display themselves and perceive others as morally important. This raises questions that have gone largely undiscussed in recent philosophical work on moral address. How does the social mediation of interpersonal perception by forces such as ideology shape and limit the possibilities for moral address? And how might creative acts of putting oneself on display make possible unanticipated forms of moral address, especially under ideological conditions? In this paper, I propose that we can make progress towards answering such questions by treating moral address as a fundamentally aesthetic phenomenon. I begin by drawing examples from literature that invite the idea that humans and animals possess ethically value-laden features that are open to empirical view, and argue that approaches to moral address that do not avail themselves of this idea face serious limits, focusing on Stephen Darwall’s The Second-Person Standpoint. I then illustrate the role of the aesthetic in moral address by offering a reading of the “Capitol Crawl,” a 1990 direct action in which people with disabilities left behind assistive devices in order to ascend the stairs leading to the US Capitol. Drawing from some ideas in Iris Murdoch, I argue that the aesthetically striking features of this collective act of moral address are inseparable from the moral demands it expresses, and that, read as an aesthetic whole, its morally expressive power extends beyond the discursive while nevertheless remaining a part of the space of reasons.
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9. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Karen Ng

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This paper develops an approach to humanist social critique that combines insights from Marx and Fanon. I argue that the concept of the human operative in humanist social critique should be understood both as the normative background against which questions of human flourishing and dehumanization can come into view, and as the evolving demand for universal human emancipation. Far from being abstract, essentialist, or ahistorical, Marx and Fanon show that humanist social critique operates through a dialectic between particular, socially and historically situated forms of oppression and struggle, and the universal species-context of the human life-form in which particular forms of suffering and injustice can come into view as instances of dehumanization. In developing this approach to humanist social critique, I defend humanism against three prominent objections: the charge of speciesism, the charge of essentialism, and the recent charge from Kate Manne who argues that humanism underdescribes relations of social antagonism and that recognition of humanity is compatible with inhumane treatment. In addition to considering the necessary relation between the particular and the universal, I also consider the relation between the psychological and social/political, arguing against the recent approach to the problem of dehumanization in the work of David Livingstone Smith.
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10. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
David Beaver, Jason Stanley

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Neutrality functions as an ideal in deliberation—we are supposed to have a neutral standpoint in debate, speak without bias or taking sides. We argue against the ideal of neutrality. We sketch how a theory of meaning could avoid commitment even to the coherence of a neutral space of discourse for exchanging reasons. In a model that accepts the ideal of neutrality, what makes propaganda exceptional is its non-neutrality. However, a critique of propaganda cannot take the form of “clearing out” the obstacles for a “neutral space of discourse for exchanging reasons”, since that is to misunderstand how speech works. Such a critique would suggest that any emotive appeal is fundamentally undemocratic, and would delegitimize almost all historical protest movements. In this paper, we contrast a neo-Fregean picture of the neutral core of language with our own practice-based view, a view that takes political propaganda and the language of protest as central cases, and in which all language practice is understood as fundamentally perspectival.
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11. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 49 > Issue: 1
Alice Crary

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This piece continues an exchange between David Beaver and Jason Stanley, on the one hand, and Alice Crary, on the other, to which Beaver’s and Stanley’s “Neutrality” (immediately above) is a contribution. All three authors agree that the critique of ideology, propaganda, and oppressive structures should not be conceived as eliminating socially-situated perspectives and subjectively-mediated sensibilities from an allegedly neutral discursive space. Their exchange began with Crary’s 2018 article, “The Methodological as Political: What’s the Matter with ‘Analytic Feminism’?” which attacks appeals to neutrality, including one Crary finds in Stanley’s 2015 book, How Propaganda Works, for obscuring a pivotal methodological insight of radical feminist thought, namely, that feminism’s political radicalism is complemented by a “methodological radicalism that involves making use of the practical power of ethically non-neutral resources, conceived as in themselves cognitively authoritative” (Crary 2018: 47). This new reply argues that Beaver’s and Stanley’s practice-based image of language, while at first seemingly aligned with this rejection of neutrality as an ideal for political discourse, fails to fully respond to her original complaint. The ideal of neutrality is problematic, not only in masking social location, but in wrongly impugning as ‘non-cognitive’ or ‘irrational’ critical resources drawn from socially-situated perspectives—the sorts of perspectives to which notable strands of feminist theory give voice precisely for their cognitive value. The current piece claims that to address this further danger it is necessary to go beyond Beaver’s and Stanley’s study of meaning and critically examine engrained philosophical assumptions about how to construe logical notions such as objectivity and truth. It closes by suggesting that, within philosophy of language broadly conceived, the tradition of ordinary language philosophy provides a more promising source of resources and illumination for struggles to make gender-based and overlapping forms of structural bias socially visible.
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